The words “We love Hrant. We are all Armenians,” may not mean much to Americans, but they were about like Southern whites in the 1950s taking to the streets and shouting, “We love Martin Luther King. We are all Negroes.”

Earlier this year, Hrant Dink, the Armenian-Turkish newspaper editor and political activist, was assassinated on the street outside his office in Istanbul by a self-described ultranationalist Turk. In the months since, Turkey has been roiled by a series of politically charged events that have caused turmoil in this beautiful, yet troubled country.

Recently, when it looked like the Turkish parliament might elect Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to the presidency, tens of thousands of flag-waving secularist Turks took to the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and Manisa, chanting “No way for Shariah.” Despite Mr. Gul’s proclamations to the contrary, many Turks think that he has shown far too many Islamist tendencies and would lead the country down the road to becoming an Islamist state.

Even though the Constitutional Court annulled a parliamentary vote in support of Mr. Gul for the presidency, the Turkish military, which has traditionally served as a guardian ensuring that the Turkish government remains secular and which has removed four governments in the last 40 years, is now paying close attention to the latest developments.

In April, Turkish nationalists assassinated three Christian evangelicals in Malayta, a town with a reputation for nationalism.

Meanwhile, European leaders, who had been nervous about admitting Turkey to the European Union, are viewing these developments with increasing apprehension. The emergence of Islamist or nationalist factions, the assassination of Hrant Dink and the Christian evangelicals, and Turkey’s adamant de jure and often violent resistance to recognizing its history of an adversarial relationship with its Armenian citizens, are all factors that are giving pause to the EU and its thoughts of allowing Turkey to join its membership.

Mr. Dink invested his life in trying to create a world of tolerance and love in an ancient land, which cradled some of the earliest days of human civilization and which has a diverse heritage where nationalism, national pride, ethnic pride, religion, history and freedom of speech frequently clash.

It was with that idealism that in 1996 he founded Agos, the newspaper that was published in Armenian and Turkish, in hopes that he could somehow mend the chasm between the two peoples who share a common nationality and a tragic history.

But as so often happens in Turkey, goodwill, candor and efforts to bring together disparate people were repaid with violence. Mr. Dink was assassinated on Jan. 19, allegedly by Ogün Samast, a 17-year-old ultranationalist Turk.

In one of Mr. Dink’s last columns in Agos he wrote, “I feel safe because I am a pigeon and in my country they don’t kill pigeons.”

Yet the last time I talked with Mr. Dink he whispered in my ear, “I feel like a pigeon on death row. I look down, I look left, I look right and up, and I live in constant fear.”

He had provoked widespread anger in Turkey for his comments on the genocide of 1915, in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Indeed he had been tried and found guilty under the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish penal code for offending his Turkish nation by such comments. His sentence was later suspended and he did not have to serve any prison term.

Despite the fact that many Turks hated Hrant Dink, for what he said and for what he stood for, in the aftermath of his assassination, hundreds of thousands of them were in the streets, chanting, “We love Hrant. We are all Armenians.”

These words may not mean much to Americans, but they were about like Southern whites in the 1950s taking to the streets and shouting, “We love Martin Luther King. We are all Negroes.”

It is truly ironic that the death of Hrant Dink would galvanize so much of Turkey, bringing people to the streets to recognize the truth and the good he brought to their world.

About a year ago, I visited Mr. Dink and presented to him a proposal to build a genocide museum in Istanbul, paid and sponsored by the people of Turkey. In fact, before I could finish my first sentences, he grabbed my arm and shouted, “Let’s go find the building.” Moments later, we were in a cab on the way to the former residence of my great-uncle, Dr. Rupen Sevag. Dr. Sevag was a physician and a poet of Armenian descent, and he had served as an officer in the Turkish army in the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. Although he was a true Turkish patriot, later that year he was targeted and murdered in the genocide of Armenian peoples in Turkey.

My great-uncle’s former home seemed like the perfect place for our genocide museum, but our idea was never to be. Violence and murder have intervened.

Hrant Dink had Martin Luther King’s spirit. While others called for violent confrontation of an unfair and unjust system that relegated some people, by virtue of their ethnic origin, to oppression, Mr. Dink called for peace and reconciliation. He believed that the chasm between Turks and Armenians could be healed through understanding.

Just like my great-uncle Dr. Sevag, he felt more Turkish than any Turk, more Armenian than any Armenian and more human than any human being. He even argued that the Armenian genocide should not be used as a political weapon against his beloved country, Turkey. Yet, just like my great-uncle, he was murdered by people who saw him as a threat to their version of Turkey, based in radical nationalist intolerance.

Mr. Dink was one of truly great heroes of our time. He had a great intellect, a great heart and a great love for his country. He believed in the brotherhood of man and freedom. It is a pity he was killed, yet it is clear that his life and his death have prompted profound changes for Turkey.

Those of us who knew and loved Hrant Dink can only hope that his legacy will move Turkey and the people of Turkey to finally embrace tolerance, equality and reconciliation with our history. If that comes to be, it surely would be a fitting reward for all of his sacrifice and courage. Let’s hope that is the case, for the good of Turkey, the Middle East and the whole world.


Dr. Alen J. Salerian is a psychiatrist and serves as the medical director of the Washington Center for Psychiatry in Washington, D.C.